Sticky Notes of Thoughts

…because some thoughts are worth remembering

On Changing One’s Past


Sayings like “we can’t change the past” are meant for the rest of us to focus on the present, so we can change the future. I rather like Jeanette Winterson’s take on it, where it boils down to the same point, but with the opposite premise: that the past is the only thing we can change.

In her novel Gut Symmetries, she wrote:

“I can’t go back into the past and change it, but I have noticed that the future changes the past. What I call the past is my memory of it and my memory is conditioned by who I am now. Who I will be. The only way for me to handle what is happening is to move myself forward into someone who has handled it.”

I enjoy her (or at least her character’s) interpretation because the kind of person I have become can interpret the past, rendering a tragic event as a positive turning point or an excuse for why everything since then seemed to go downhill.

She’s right, of course. There’s now science to back it up. Daniel Kahneman, the author of Thinking, Fast and Slow, in this TED Talk, spoke about the experiencing self and the remembering self. He describes the experiencing self as someone listening to a recording where everything was terrific until at the very end where there was a screeching sound. The listener said it ruined “the whole experience” when Kahneman shares his correction with the audience, that it was the listener’s memory that was ruined, not the experience itself. These are 3 different ways of saying 1. live in the now (for maximizing for the experiencing self), so that you can 2. be the kind of person who can reflect on the past in a positive light, and therefore, 3. you don’t have to worry about the future, equipped with a positive experiencing self and a remembering self.


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This entry was posted on March 14, 2015 by in Book, Psychology, Quotes and tagged , , , , , , , , .
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